Stephen Gill’s Night Procession was on a whole bunch of Best Of and Photobook of the Year lists in 2017, and it’s no wonder, really. If you’re unaware, Gill set some motion activated cameras up in the forest near his home in Sweden, added some infrared flashes to them, and photographed the birds, deer, wild hogs, and other things that run the forest at night, free from human interference. Once prints from the photos were made, he treated them with pigments made from the plants near where the camera stood, resulting in a mostly green tint throughout.
It’s not something I would normally pick up, to be honest. I read some about it when it came out, and it was recommended left, right, and center, but I looked and thought, “naw… let me save the money, this time…”
That I have it, and appreciate it as much as I do, is testament to Charcoal Book Club’s curation… but more on that later in the week, maybe. Back to Gill and his book…
Gill’s a little bit famous for the treatment to which he subjects his pictures. In previous series, he: buried prints near the location they were made, to see if the place would leave a mark; put ants and twigs and whatnot inside the body of the camera, to leave their mark on the photographs; he let energy drinks eat into the emulsion…
Good times, I say, but as I flipped through Night Procession early Saturday morning, I was reminded of something I read even earlier that day by Luigi Ghirri, in a 1986 essay entitled ‘Photography and Representing the Outside,’ collected in The Complete Essays 1973-1991. “All to often, photography overlooks its own potential, only to take shelter in easy emotions and simple colors, in obsessive repetition, in the continuous use of a particular style, in cataloguing, in the exasperation of shapes and surfaces.” (115)
The act of physically incorporating some bit of the subject into the photograph, something more than its image, than the light that bounced off of it, is interesting, and speaks to something about representation and reproducibility, but after more than 10 years, is it now something that’s just expected of Gill? Something that he does because that’s what he does? Or is it still necessary to communicate the idea he’s after?
Gill published a nice article about the project in The Financial Times (sadly, might be behind a paywall by the time you get there) and gives us some insight into his thought process… He had recently moved to a remote part of Sweden, and felt the need to photograph, but was bewildered by the place and didn’t really know what to do. He hiked and kayaked, and lived in the place, and began to catch glimpses of deer and hogs and other forest life, and wonder what they might be up to at night, how they might interact, when he wasn’t around to scare them off.
Taking a backseat as author, trusting the motion-activated shutters to go off at the decisive moment, coupled with giving the place itself a voice (in the form of treating the prints with pigments made from plants at the scene) appealed to Gill, and it works.
The accompanying essay, ‘The world inside the world,’ by Karl Ove Knausgård is insightful and just about the best introductory text I’ve ever read. Others compare it to Kerouac’s intro to Robert Frank’s The Americans. Knausgård is one of Gill’s neighbors, so the photographs reveal something to him. In reading it, I sense that he recognized some of the place, but that it was all so foreign, thanks to being taken at night, with infrared flash, and suffused with plant pigments.
I’m probably making more (or less) of that than it really means… And it might seem that I’m panning or discarding the work, but really, it speaks to me in some way. I’m just not sure what that is.
The whole idea of the book is interesting and intriguing, many of the photographs inside are incredible, striking things, and Nobody did a great job with the printing and binding and all.
Overall, I’d give Night Procession a solid 4.5 stars.
Robert Dunn and Brad Feuerhelm have written much more eloquently than I about this book, so if you’re on the fence, go and read what they have to say. Otherwise, just go pick up a copy. It’ll make a great addition to your collection. It has definitely enriched mine.